CD Review December 2013
Robert Randolph Presents: The Slide Brothers
This CD, and this type of slide guitar playing, is the intersection where blues and gospel meet. Often, the two have been separated, blues being traditionally seen as the devil's music and gospel music being the music of salvation. And the blues could be played on either guitar or piano, but the guitar was most closely aligned with blues, while the piano or organ was used for the music of worshipping God.
In Florida, in the 1930's, a congregation started using steel guitar instead of the more traditional keyboard. Other churches in Florida adopted the practice. For most of the last 80 years, the sacred steel tradition has been mostly regional to Florida. Robert Randolph, and the Slide Brothers - Calvin Cooke, Aubrey Ghent, Chuck Campbell, and Darick Campbell - were all raised in the House of God Church, and are bringing the sacred steel guitar tradition to a wider audience.
The opening track, a cover of the Allman Brothers' "Don't Keep Me Wonderin'," showcases the precision of the slide. It's simply beautiful. As Chuck Campbell explains it, "Growing up in church, the sacred slide tradition always attempts to mimic the voices singing in church." He further states that blues music always seemed a little "sloppy" and not as precise.
The second track is a fabulous version of George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord." Billy Preston covered this song during the Concert For George (tribute to George Harrison). Preston turned it into a gospel/blues mantra, and the Slide Brothers do a similar thing here. They go a step further, though, and talk about the Lord in a prayerful, respectful way. The song captures the feeling of being in church on Sunday morning, experiencing the love. The Slide Brothers turned George Harrison's wistful, wondering plea to the Indian gods - wondering how long (how many lifetimes) would be spent on the wheel of karma - into a joyous affirmation of love in the highest degree. The lead vocal is supplied by Jimmy Carter of the Blind Boys of Alabama.
Another noteworthy guest on the CD is Billy Cox, bassist for Jimi Hendrix' Band of Gypsys. Cox plays bass on a solid cover of "The Sky Is Crying", made famous by Elmore James, and later on, Stevie Ray Vaughn. And blues royalty Shemekia Copeland lifts everyone's spirits on "Praise You". Born in Harlem, she's the daughter of Texas bluesman/guitarist Johnny Copeland.
"Wade In The Water" is a traditional spiritual song, whose lyrics refer to both the Old and New Testaments. On this CD, it's performed as an instrumental, which really allows the slide playing to come forth and shine. "It Hurts Me Too" is a classic relationship-problem blues song, originally done by Tampa Red in the 1930's. Subsequently, it's been interpreted by Elmore James, Junior Wells, Chuck Berry, and more recently, Govt Mule and Susan Tedeschi.
By the time you get to the last song, "No Cheap Seats In Heaven", the spirit is infectious and you can maybe even believe that you, too, will have a seat among the saved. The Slide Brothers are, in the words of John McDermott (liner notes), the "Standard Bearers of the Sacred Steel Tradition." Not only is this music uplifting, but there's not a shred of irony, shoe-gazing or angst in sight, despite some real troubles and woes. This is adult music for everyone - adult in the best sense of the term, meaning real-life situations and concerns: love, redemption, matters of the heart and spirit, and hope for a better life.
The Slide Brothers - An Overview
The Slide Brothers with Shemekia Copeland - "Praise You"